Amazon has announced a new version of the incredibly popular Amazon Echo at an intimate event at its headquarters in Seattle and Pocket-lint was on hand to have a listen and a chat with the new Alexa-powered speaker.
This isn't just an updated version of the Echo, it's an all-new Echo, redesigned and repositioned with a new lower price, making it all the more potent.
Amazon Echo (2nd generation) preview: Design
- Smaller design with swappable shells including fabric and wood
- 148.5 x 88 x 88mm, 820g
The new Echo gets a new form factor that sees the intelligent speaker shrink considerably in size as well as get a number of new shells. These shells will include charcoal fabric, sandstone fabric (which is more white than sand), a heather grey fabric, an oak wood finish, a walnut wood finish, and a metallic silver finish (although it's still plastic), and are much more premium than the Echo we've had until now, which was black or white plastic.
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The shells are removable and in the future Amazon has said that it will offer the chance for you to buy them individually if your mood or décor changes. We especially like the new fabric versions. They follow in the lines of Libratone speakers, although not quite as a luxurious, but there's also a healthy dose of Google Home thrown in too.
On the top there are four buttons: mute, tap to talk to Alexa, and the volume. The new Echo loses the ability to rotate the top to turn the volume down opting for physical buttons, but we don't suspect this will cause anyone to lose any sleep over it. The power plugs in around the back and Amazon has also added an aux in for those looking to plug in other things to the speaker - an improvement over the original.
As previously there is a multi-coloured LED light on the top to show it is responding.
Amazon Echo (2nd generation) preview: Speaker
- 2.5-inch woofer
- 0.6-inch tweeter
- Dolby processing
We've never really seen the Amazon Echo as a fully-fledged speaker, and at £90 in the UK, it's clear this is about making your life smart rather than really packing a punch on the tunes front.
That said, the second-gen Echo has been upgraded with a new speaker set featuring a 2.5-inch woofer and 0.6-inch tweeter. The speaker delivers a better sound and you now get Dolby processing to make things a little more rounded.
We'll need to spend more time to fully assess the sound quality of the new Echo aware from the Amazon demo room; the interesting thing will be how it sounds once it's sitting in your kitchen or elsewhere in your house. However, given the small stature of this speaker, we'll be interested to hear how well it competes with other compact Bluetooth speakers like the UE Wonderboom or the B&O BeoPlay A1.
If you're after the best quality sound then things are starting to hot up in Alexa-powered speakers. There's rumours of an Alexa-powered Sonos Play:1 launching at the start of October and plenty of others soon to launch, but sound quality isn't the only consideration for a device like the Echo, because it does so much more. Then there's the price to consider as well.
Amazon Echo (2nd generation) preview: The omnipresent Alexa…
- New 2nd gen far-field mic technology
- Automatically updates from the cloud
- Smart home support for connecting devices like lights
The beauty of the Echo is that it is powered by Alexa and that Alexa is constantly getting updated via the cloud. There are no software updates needed, new stuff just becomes available each week and more and more services and devices become compatible.
Talking to Alexa is core to the experience and it's here that the new Echo gets another upgrade. The new Echo uses Amazon's second generation far-field technology, which feature better wake word processing, improved beam-forming technology, and enhanced noise cancellation. In practice this means that it will be better at hearing you barking orders, even if you've turned the music up beyond "volume eight".
We tried it in a pseudo demo room at Amazon's HQ on the 30th floor and it works. No more repeatedly shouting Alexa over and over again as you wait for the intelligent assistant to answer your mundane question about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow (about 11 metres a second?)
As for Alexa smarts, it gets them all with the ability to turn off your lights, ask for music, get help with your homework and so much more.
Amazon Echo (2nd generation) preview: Echo vs Echo Plus
- No ZigBee support
- Echo Plus has larger speaker cavity
- Slightly different physical controls
The Amazon Echo differs from the Echo Plus in a number of ways. On the sound front they are very similar using the same speaker and Dolby processing, but the Echo Plus comes with a taller design which means a larger cavity for the speaker to work.
The Echo Plus is also going to be more suited for those who plan to really take advantage of the smart home functionality. Although the Echo will still work with many smart home devices, the Echo Plus will feature dedicated ZigBee support which means you can ditch the Philips Hue bridge for example. There are also small differences in the way you control the device, but Alexa is the same experience on both.
Amazon Echo (2nd generation) preview: Accessories
Amazon has also announced a number of accessories for the Amazon Echo.
There are the Amazon Echo Buttons that allow you to play games like Trivial Pursuit and a new Echo Connect box which will connect to your landline phone and allow you to make and take calls on the Echo.
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Given the £90 ($99) price point it is hard to fault the new Echo. It looks great works really well, and will continue the huge success of the original model we've been enjoying for the last 2 years.
From what we've heard the sound isn't the most amazing in the world and there will be better wireless speakers on the market, but as a way to get into the Alexa experience it doesn't have to be.
The smaller size is also much more appealing, easily fitting into your home rather than the big black and white monolith of the original Echo. From what we've seen so far we like it a lot.
Alexa… Add one to my shopping list.
The Amazon Echo costs £89.99 in the UK and is available to buy from today.